Dion: The Wanderer Has Never Left the Building

November 18, 2022: “When Dion DiMucci was attending junior high school in the Bronx, not long before he became a rock and roll sensation with the Belmonts—named for Belmont Avenue, near his home—his grandfather came over every morning to perform a ritual with a wooden spoon and tin cup. … It’s a story Dion has told often, as he did at the podium in 2011 while accepting an award from the National Italian-American Foundation, where Barack Obama, known to eat up to half a dozen eggs with potatoes for breakfast, was in the audience. … Clean and sober for more than half a century now, the kid from East 183rd Street who wrote ‘(I Was) Born to Cry’ in the days when he wolfed down that brain food hasn’t been buzzed on anything stronger than Robert Johnson’s blues for a long, long time. … That’s the way Lou Reed introduced Dion —of ‘Runaround Sue,’ ‘The Wanderer,’ and ‘Abraham, Martin and John’ fame—when DiMucci was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in 1989.  Both solo and with the Belmonts, Dion has charted 11 singles on the Billboard Top 40, beginning with ‘I Wonder Why,’ in 1958. But he did not make it to Cleveland’s hallowed hall as an oldies act. Once upon a time, he was a heartthrob, but the long-ago ‘Teenager In Love’ (No. 5 in 1959) is 83 now, born four years after Elvis. Dion says he met the King just once, when they were performing at different hotels in Las Vegas. … Nor did anyone see the folk smash ‘Abraham, Martin and John’ coming from doo-wop royalty at the height of the late ’60s hippie era. Perhaps the best-known tale of American assassination (‘I just looked around and he’s gone.…’), the single had sold well over a million copies less than six months after it was released, in 1968. That was the year Dion kicked heroin, gave up booze, and began life as a serious Christian, a journey of a half-century—documented in several 1980s gospel LPs—that eventually returned him to his Roman Catholic roots. …”
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